National Character Area 32

Lancashire and Amounderness Plain - Landscape Change

The full NCA Profile landscape change page, is temporarily unavailable until publication of the Defra 25 Year Environment Plan Indicator G1 later in May 2024.

Monitoring Landscape Change

Drivers for change
The Lancashire and Amounderness Plain is a largely agricultural landscape, low-lying and influenced by the River Wyre and its tributaries, and subject to both agricultural and development pressures. Continued population growth as well as arable intensification may impact future water availability, as well as contribute to fragmentation of important habitats, including dune and marsh systems. Rising temperatures and rainfall variation may also impact flood risks and river habitats, and may alter agricultural practices.

Monitoring landscape change
This section is temporarily unavailable until publication of the Defra 25 Year Environment Plan Indicator G1 later in May 2024.

Additional information on landscape change

Landscape change reported in 2014

Recent changes and trends (reported in 2014)


  • Changes in agricultural practices have resulted in field expansion and a decline in the biodiversity of the landscape.
  • Between 2000 and 2009 there has been a decrease in the number of holders of 21 per cent (2,774 to 2,179).
  • Between 2000 and 2009 sheep numbers decreased by 18 per cent, cattle numbers decreased by 16 per cent and pig numbers decreased by 56 per cent.

Boundary features

  • The estimated boundary length for the NCA is about 6,538 km. The total length of Environmental Stewardship agreements for linear features as at March 2011 is approximately 1,229 km.
  • The most frequent Environmental Stewardship agreements for linear features as at March 2011 Were for hedgerows (886 km) and ditches (259 km).

Coast and rivers

  • In the River Wyre area in the north of the NCA, the Pilling and Garstang- Woodplumpton aquifers are ‘over-licensed’, whilst streams forming part of the River Wyre catchment within this NCA have ‘water available’.
  • The River Ribble catchment in the centre of the NCA generally has ‘water available. In the Douglas area, groundwater units of the Rufford Aquifer in the north and east have ‘water available’ whilst units in the west and south are ‘over licensed’ or ‘over abstracted’. Surface water resources generally have ‘water available’ with the exception of Eller Brook, a tributary of the River Douglas that drains an area to the north east and east of Ornskirk; this is ‘over abstracted’ owing to summer irrigation abstractions for agriculture.
  • The Ribble Estuary and its associated banks and channels exert a significant control on the evolution of both the important tourist areas of Southport frontage (Sefton Coast NCA) and the Fylde Peninsula. It contains internationally important areas of environmental designation and is naturally accreting, which has allowed widespread land reclamation in the past.
  • The Fylde Peninsula, including Lytham, Blackpool and Cleveleys, has potential to be affected by changes within these systems. There is a sand dune system to the south at Lytham, which is fronted by a wide sandy beach, although the majority of dunes have been significantly modified and built upon.
  • From central Blackpool to Anchorsholme, high protected cliffs back the sand beach, while north of Anchorsholme the frontage is low-lying and potentially at flood risk from both the open coast and the Wyre estuary. The frontage is heavily urbanised, with the town of Blackpool spreading into Thornton and Cleveleys and much of the shoreline now held seaward of its natural position.

Historic features

  • Degradation and loss of the area’s distinctive field ponds has occurred as a result of drainage, pollution by agricultural runoff, natural succession and infilling. These ponds are important cultural remnants of historic marl and brick pits and have valuable relic landscape features.
  • Lowering of water tables (due to agriculture or abstraction for development) threatens damage to archaeological remains.
  • There have been a significant number of barn conversions throughout the area.
  • In 1918 about 2 per cent of the NCA was historic parkland. By 1995 it was estimated that 50 per cent of that area had been lost. By 2003 about 62 per cent of the remaining parkland was covered by a Historic Parkland Grant, and 2 per cent included in an agri-environmental scheme.


  • Marl pits excavated in the 19 century are associated with a particular soil type, the Salop and Salwick Flint Associations, which contain deposits of lime. These pits have since filled with water to form ponds.
  • Continued sand and gravel extraction which may result in significant landscape change, including the substitution of managed pasture and arable farmland with water bodies and other new habitats of nature conservation and recreational potential.

Semi-natural habitats

  • A decline in landscape diversity has been caused by the expansion of commercial scale agriculture. Ongoing loss of permanent grassland and use of herbicides and fertilisers have caused the loss of wild flowers within fields and eutrophication of watercourses and wetlands.
  • Drainage and flood control have affected important ditches, mosses and areas of fen carr. Lowering of water tables (due to agriculture or abstraction for development) has caused loss of characteristic wetland vegetation and encroachment by scrub; it also threatens damage to archaeological remains.
  • Many ponds are now in the late stages of natural succession and are starting to fill with silt and vegetation. Others have been infilled for agricultural purposes or have been lost to road construction and building developments, especially in urban fringe areas. Drainage, pollution and agricultural runoff are also an issue.

Settlement and development

  • Large scale residential development and introduction of urbanising elements into the rural landscape such as golf courses and static caravan sites, as well as substantial leisure complexes. Particularly on the fringes of the major coastal urban areas and in the vicinity of the M6 motorway corridor.
  • The conversion of historic brick-built barns for use as residential dwellings or for intensive agricultural practices, with harshly coloured imported bricks and other inappropriate materials have, in some areas, resulted in poorly integrated developments which compromise the historic buildings and the wider landscape setting of groups of farm buildings.
  • Waste management developments including treatment works and land raising have already had a significant influence on local landscape character, particularly on the Ribble and Wyre estuaries.
  • Tranquillity and intrusion levels have declined significantly in the past fifty years, with the total ‘undisturbed’ area of the NCA having decreased from 50 per cent in the 1960s to 18 per cent in 2007.

Trees and woodlands

  • About 4 per cent of the existing woodland is ancient woodland (156 ha), of this 17 per cent (27 ha) is plantation on ancient woodland sites.
  • Existing woodlands, which are important landscape features, often lack management. In 2003 there was limited evidence of any active management under the Woodland Grant Scheme.
  • Some new woodlands have been planted particularly in the south, through the Mersey Community Forest.

Drivers of Change (reported in 2014)

Climate Change

  • Evidence from the UK Climate Impacts Programme (UKCP09) shows that over the coming century the area’s climate is expected to become warmer and wetter in winter and hotter and drier in summer. Under the medium emissions scenario by 2080: mean winter temperatures will increase by 2.6˚C, mean summer temperatures will increase by 3.7˚C, winter precipitation will increase by 16 per cent, summer precipitation will decrease by 22 per cent and there will be an increased frequency of extreme events (floods/drought).
  • The North West Landscape Framework Climate Change Assessment 2010/11 identifies urban areas as having a higher vulnerability to climate change due to their lack of habitats and for generally being located on the flattest areas of land. These two factors restrict species movement and ecosystem functionality.
  • The predicted rising sea levels are likely result in an increased risk of flooding, high tides and tidal surges. While the existing flood defences would provide much protection, there is a risk that the extensive mudflats and saltmarshes would be lost. This would have a major impact on the internationally significant bird feeding grounds in these areas.
  • The increase in sea levels and storm surges might change the rate of sediment input to dunes and even the location of sand dunes along the coast. Pressures for hard sea defence works to combat this risk may themselves alter the dynamics of sand movement.
  • Prolonged periods of drought, could lead to reduced ground water and drying out of peat habitats making them more prone to soil erosion and wildfire events.
  • Smaller, fragmented patches of habitat are vulnerable to loss of biodiversity arising from changes in rainfall and temperature.
  • More intense and more frequent rainfall may lead to an increase in flooding and an increased risk of soil erosion or weakened soil structure due to flash flooding. There is also an associated greater likelihood of pollution of watercourses downstream, and a potential increased risk of landslides, during times of increased rainfall.
  • Potential for more favourable conditions for crops and other farming practices not presently possible within this area may also lead to an alteration in the character of the landscape as a result of changing cropping patterns.
  • Threat to trees and woodland from changing pests and diseases and extreme weather events.
  • Possible expansion of arable or energy crops into areas currently under permanent grassland.

Other key drivers

  • There is continued pressure for the construction of large scale residential development at the edges to local villages and introduction of urbanising elements into the rural landscape.
  • There is continued pressure for development including pylons, communication masts, sewage works and other infrastructure including wind turbines and solar farms.
  • The increased development is likely to result in continued pressure for the construction of services such as sewers and pipelines, which may destroy small relict areas of valuable dune habitat, and further fragment the small remaining tracts of dune.
  • Development has potential to lower the water table due to increased water abstraction, which may affect dune slack and pools. Pressure for development is particularly intense on the fringes of the major coastal urban areas and along strategic transport corridors are also attractive locations for large out-of-town retail, industrial and leisure complexes.
  • The area has a large number of historic brick-built barns, which are under pressure for conversion for use as residential dwellings or for intensive agricultural practices.
  • Recreational pressures are an ongoing force for change. In addition to pressures for recreational facilities particularly on the fringes of Blackpool, including the development of golf courses and static caravan sites, as well as substantial leisure complexes close to the M6 corridor. These pressures may also impact on sensitive ecosystems such as sand dunes and saltmarshes. In the confined area of dunes, trampling can cause erosion which may lead to the degradation of natural grass swards and the destabilisation of the dunes. On the fringes of the marsh increased recreation can lead to problems such as erosion and fly-tipping. Car parks are often visually intrusive in these fragile, open landscapes and may lead to erosion.
  • The England Coast Path, a new National Trail around all of England’s open coast, will for the first time give people the right of access around all of England’s open coast, including -where appropriate, -‘spreading room’ along the way where they can rest, relax or admire the view. The Coastal Access scheme sets out the methodology for implementation of the England Coast path and associated coastal margin, and includes details on how it will ensure there will be no impact on sensitive features found on and along the coast. It supports future work to protect or increase existing, access to and from the coast that may provide links to circular walks with the England Coast Path., It ensures that any landscape enhancement schemes take account of, and where possible incorporate, better public access provision, and in the future the introduction of coastal access delivery.
  • The pressure to market Blackpool as a “leisure destination” brings with it an increase in developments such as caravan parks, golf courses and other outdoor pursuits. This will have a large impact on the rural landscape, particularly of the Fylde plain, as well as encroachment into the surrounding historic landscape. This tourism-led expansion requires careful management to ensure any adverse impacts of development are minimised.
  • The degradation of valuable wetland habitats due to polluted run-off from adjacent farmland and intensive agricultural practices such as drainage, intensive sheep grazing and hedgerow removal is continuing. The drainage and the lowering of local water tables may lead to drying out on the fringes of mosses and marshes so that these habitats are vulnerable to the invasion of birch and willow scrub.
  • There is pressure for continued sand and gravel extraction which may result in significant landscape change. This may include the substitution of managed pasture and arable farmland with water bodies and other new habitats of nature conservation and recreational potential.
  • The threat of water-borne pollutants from some of the major industrial premises is ongoing. Such contamination could have a severe impact on vulnerable ecosystems such as the open coastal marsh.
  • The future expansion and restoration of waste management developments including treatment works and land raising.
  • Economic pressures causing changes in land ownership and development are resulting in the fragmentation of historic estates and their associated designed parklands, trees, shelterbelts and coverts. This may lead to the loss or degradation of historic landmark woodlands which are key features in this relatively large scale open agricultural landscape.
  • Development pressure from new sources of fossil fuels, such as shale gas.